Cordelia’s eyes widened with sheer, unadulterated horror as Buffy informed her of what had transpired throughout the course of the interminable day. She was finally understanding why the room had such a cold, depressing air to it.
“Xander…” Buffy said wistfully, choking on a sob as she trailed off.
Willow’s head rested on Oz’s chest and she was biting her trembling lower lip. He tried to reassure her through a series of comforting gestures—holding her close and soothing her hair—but it appeared to do just the opposite. Even Rupert Giles seemed uneasy without Xander’s witty comments and amusing anecdotes to brighten the dreary mood. The stiff silence in the room was almost unbearable; any sound, such as a sniffle or the crinkle of paper, was welcomed, for it relieved some of the stress between the group, but even those were few and far between.
Finally: “I promised to save him.”
They all turned to face Buffy squarely, each person a little startled at the sound of a voice in the room. She was picking at a nail and chewing her lip at the same time, almost rhythmically.
Willow lifted her head from Oz’s chest then asked, “What?”
Staring off blankly into space as though she there was nothing in the room but unending darkness. “I promised to save him.”
“When?” questioned an astounded Willow. “When’d you see him?”
“I, I didn’t ‘see’ him exactly. I had a dream—more like a nightmare—and he was calling out to me, not with words really, but with actions and emotions. I won’t tell you much more than that because it’s just too terrible to recount, but I promised I’d find him, and by God, I will.
“Oh, if only he’d stayed with me last night, this probably would never have happened. But no, Xander wouldn’t have it. He just had to rush off to get to his precious ‘meeting’ with you, Cordy.”
Cordelia gave the distraught slayer a funny look as she replied, “What meeting?” There was genuine confusion in Cordelia’s eyes; Xander never went to her house.
“He was going to your house to see you, he told me.”
Cordy gave a brief, almost disgusted snort. “Ah no, Buffy. I was out with Harmony and the other girls last night. Xander never even mentioned coming over.”
“But that’s what he told me,” she protested. Xander doesn’t even want to be around me anymore, she thought glumly. He couldn’t stand me any longer, so he made up a lie just to get away from me. Buffy's eyes flooded. Just in the last day, her feelings for Xander had evolved from friend, to confidant, to ‘he’s sort of cute,’ to… Well, she wasn’t exactly sure, but she wanted him back, and she was willing to fight for his life, even if it meant sacrificing her own.
“Well, he never showed up,” Cordelia replied, emphasizing the “up” with a pop.
From over in the corner, Willow chimed in softly, “He came to my house last night.”
In unison, the bickering two said, “He did?”
Willow nodded and Buffy then asked why, a touch of jealously showing up in her voice. “We had to work out some issues between us, that’s all.”
“Hey!” Cordy shouted to Buffy, a little slow on the uptake. “What exactly did you mean by ‘if Xander had stayed with you?’”
Buffy sighed exasperatley, “I asked him into my house after the ‘incident’ at the cemetery, but he refused.”
“Good,” Cordy snarled like the snobbish debutante she was.
“Bitch!” With that, Buffy launched herself at the brunette, who tried to jump out of the way of the very angry slayer. But Buffy was Buffy, and she brought Cordy down before she’d even had a chance to lift her foot in defense. There were screams and shrieks left and right as the two clawed, scratched, and kicked each other. Buffy acted totally out of character for herself, fighting like any normal teenage girl would instead of a formidable, tough slayer with Slayer Strength. Giles and Oz were quick to react, and within moments they’d separated the two catty teenage girls.
“Slut!” Buffy yelled.
“Fashion freak!” retorted Cordy with one of her normal clothing criticisms.
Buffy tried desperately to leap for Cordelia, and it took all of Giles’ strength to hold her back, but he was successful. “We’ll never find him at this rate!” cried the librarian angrily.
Buffy still attempted to grab Miss FashionandPopularity by the neck, but stopped dead in her tracks the instant she heard Oz’s gentle voice in her ear. “Are you breaking your promise already?”
She stared wide-eyed at Oz and then started to shake, so Giles hugged her as tight as he could manage. “No, never! Never! Xander’s my best friend. I’ll save him, I will.
“I’m sorry, Cordelia. I’m just… Oh god,” she swallowed hard, “I’m just so scared.” The room once again fell into the grips of silence. Buffy, scared? The two words were complete antonyms.
She loves him, Willow thought, a bit surprised. Angel had always been the sole star in Buffy’s sky, the only ray of light in her dark, forbidden world. Before, she wouldn’t even look Xander’s way when Angel would walk into a room, but now, apparently, it was different. Willow noticed recently that Buffy had started paying more attention to him, but she had never really thought anything of it at the time. When Buffy said she was scared, Willow knew she loved him—instantly she knew. At one time, this would have bothered her, knowing that her friend was in love with her best friend/crush, but no longer. She’d given up Xander for good last night in order to devote all of her love to her Oz. Willow wondered if Buffy even had an inkling as to how she felt about Xander. Watching her cry on Giles’ shoulder made Willow think Buffy didn’t know after all; she appeared confused, frustrated and down right terrified, but not in love. Oh, if only she could read Buffy’s thoughts.
Xander found it hard to control his gagging reflex. He just wanted to vomit, purge his system of the revolting scene before him, but didn’t, couldn’t. Damn you, Angelus! The pungent odor of decay filled his nostrils and made him nauseous, the noisome reek of death clouding his mind with gruesome scenes of violence and hurt. He had to think of something else, someone else.
Buffy… He missed her so much already it was hard to believe, with Cordy hanging far behind the slayer in the shadows. Xander didn’t know how he’d made it through those rotten, Buffyless summer months when he could hardly make it through a day without her.
The slayerette concentrated hard on her face, every appealing aspect of her body, her distinct smell, and her light tone of voice. Xander recreated Buffy in his mind perfectly, down to the minutest detail, even that “thing” Cordy was always talking about.
He envisioned her running to him, arms opened, honey blond hair fanning around her. Xander threw his arms wide as well, ready to embrace her figure the moment she reached him.
The closer Buffy got, the happier he became. His heart swelled with delight at the thought of touching her. When she was practically inches from him, she swerved slightly and raced right passed him, leaving him by himself, hugging the air, for there was no one else to hold.
He heard Buffy’s melodic laughter coming from behind him, so her turned, and what he saw made him wish he had never done so. There she was, arms wrapped tightly around Angel’s shoulders, kissing him deeply on the mouth. Angel had one arm slung low round her waist and the other was pushing her head deeper into the kiss. Suddenly, Angel broke their connection, and he looked into Xander’s eyes as he lowered his head to Buffy’s neck, kissing her softly there once, twice, three times, until she moaned happily. Then his face changed—his brow grew furrowed and misshapen while his fingernails evolved into barbed, predatory claws. As he brought her neck to his mouth and drew back his lips, Angel’s teeth grew tapered and pointed, sharp, and long. He sank his fangs into her carotid artery, and Buffy exhaled with a throaty sigh, then proceeded to sob quietly.
“Buffy, no!” Xander yelped as he watched Buffy grow pale while Angelus drained her body dry. She shed a few useless tears that collided with the earth right before she did, the resounding splash of the droplets crashing along with the boom of angry thunder when her figure fell to the floor.
Angelus stood, looming over her, demonically laughing. “Save her now, White Knight.”
Xander raced to her side and rolled her onto her back gently, careful not to hurt his love further. She looked up into his eyes and they connected, really connected. “Xander?” she whispered into his ear.
“Hmm?” he asked, his voice evidently choked with heavy sobs.
“I’m c…cold, so cold.” He pulled her limp figure into his arms and bent his upper body over her. “C…cold.”
“Hush now,” he ordered. “Lie still, and you’ll be all right, you’ll see. We’ll go dancing at the Bronze and listen to Oz’s band play and have lots of chocolate. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
Buffy smiled weakly and nodded affirmatively. “Xander?” He looked down into her gorgeous eyes. They showed no sign of fear of what lay beyond this life; in fact, they seemed to radiate a profound knowledge of it few would ever know up until their last couple moments on Earth. “Will you t…tell me a st…story?”
“Which one do you want to hear?”
He began the fairy tale and Buffy listened intently to every word, never interrupting even though Xander could tell by her facial expressions that he had gotten some parts of it wrong. She never interjected, only listened with a grin on her face; and as a sign of thank you for fulfilling her dying wish, she took the boy’s hand and squeezed it lightly.
When he’d almost reached the end, Xander noticed Buffy slipping away. Her eyes frosted over with the visage of death dancing in them, her muscles relaxed, and as Xander watched her die, he cried, but never once deviated from the course of the story, not pausing for a single moment.
As he finished with “And they lived happily ever after,” Buffy passed away into an even deeper sleep than the one Princess Aurora had experienced, and he could tell that this spell could never be broken, not even by the kiss from her true love, from her prince. However, that didn’t prevent Xander from brushing his lips across her forehead anyway as a final act of goodbye. He lowered his head to hers and kissed her softer than a summer breeze, right on her brow, hoping that she felt the kiss wherever she was now.
“Sleep tight, Princess Aurora,” he whispered when he laid her down onto the ground. Xander turned from her pallid body, no longer able to control the anguish and sadness he felt inside. Burying his head into his hands, he cried, soaking himself and his true love’s corpse. “Oh God,” he choked, unable to breath in the stale air, “oh God.”
Xander awoke, gasping for air, his lungs filling with the noxious fumes in the room. A dream, it had been a horrible dream! He hadn’t even realized he’d fallen asleep.
What a nightmare. It had been so realistic he’d thought it had actually happened. It hadn’t happened, right? Maybe it was a flashback to a scene earlier in the day that was so painful, Xander had blocked it from his mind. He prayed it wasn’t because, if it were, it only meant one thing: Buffy Summers was dead.